• Ramada Luling, LA

    Ramada Luling, LA



 By Bruce Eggler, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune 

on January 29, 2013 at 5:15 PM, updated January 29, 2013 at 6:18 PM

Officially, the request before the New Orleans City Planning Commission this month was to allow the Pontchartrain Hotel -- the storied St. Charles Avenue address that for decades was one of the city's choice stopping places for celebrities -- to resume operations as a hotel. The owners' actual plans are more modest.

The Pontchartrain was built as an apartment hotel in 1927 by E. Lysle Aschaffenburg and remained in his family until 1987. Conversion to a conventional hotel began in 1941, but some permanent residents hung on until 1990.

In 2008, with tourism still down after Katrina and amid doubts about the viability of a pricey hotel well outside the French Quarter, the owners decided to convert the building at 2035 St. Charles Ave. into luxury apartments for the elderly. 

Demand for such units has proved to be less robust than the owners hoped, however, so they now want the option to make some of the 82 units available for short-term visitors, especially during peak demand periods. Spokesman Richard Ganucheau of Burrus Investment Group Inc. said about a quarter of the units generally are empty at any one time, but that the hotel initially might offer only 10 or so for short-term rentals. 

He said the Pontchartrain will remain basically a residential building for seniors, and its first-floor restaurant will continue to be open only to residents and guests. 

Regaining permission to operate as a regular hotel will have another benefit. As a hotel, the Pontchartrain will be able legally to offer live music in its cocktail lounge, the Bayou Bar. When the city last year cracked down on venues featuring live music without permission, the Pontchartrain shut down the music at the Bayou Bar. 

The owners could have applied for a conditional-use permit to resume the music, as they did in 2010 to get permission to continue operating the bar, but Ganucheau said they decided it would be just as easy to change the overall designation of the hotel, especially since the demand for hotel rooms on St. Charles Avenue seems to have rebounded. 

The planning commission unanimously endorsed the Pontchartrain's request for a new legal status. Assuming that the City Council, as expected, approves the change, probably in a few weeks, the hotel will be able to begin renting rooms to short-term visitors and the Bayou Bar will once again be able to offer a pianist or jazz trio. The site is in Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell's district.

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